1. Empty Handed
Lobelia Sackville-Baggins rang the bell pull at Bag End with what she imagined was authority, and waited impatiently for Bilbo to respond. It ought to be the other way around, of course—after abandoning his home and the Shire for a year and a day, Bilbo had been declared legally dead. That he could just walk back into Hobbiton and take up as if nothing had happened—well, that was just too bad, of course. Longo ought to have taken the role of the Baggins at that point, and Bilbo ought not to have been able to do anything about it on his return. But instead, Bilbo had shown the bad taste to turn up disgustingly alive, and with more than enough funds to buy back those items that had already been sold—except, of course, those things Lobelia herself had disposed of before the day of the sale whose purchasers she'd never divulged.
So, here she was at the door as a visitor where she ought to have been the mistress, which was quite the opposite of the way she'd intended things to be.
She'd just reached this point in her reveries when the door opened, with Bilbo standing inside, a once-white cloth over his shoulder and a second knotted about his waist, holding that awful faunt Frodo in his arms. "Yes, yes, and what can I do for you, Lobelia?" he demanded. "I fear I have little time to visit—I have young Frodo here to care for today while his parents are off to Overhill on business."
"It has to do with the charity fete for the Sandybanks in Overhill," she said importantly. "You heard, I'm certain, about how their hole was flooded when the Water backed up a few weeks ago." She carefully ran her hands down the fawn-colored fabric of her new skirt. She knew that it and the yellow bodice she was wearing became her well enough, and certainly indicated how well off and important she and Otho were, and how she couldn't be bothered with fancywork like most common Hobbitesses. "We were hoping you would be willing to donate one of the prizes for the raffle that will be part of the fete."
"And you had to come for such a thing today of all days!" muttered Bilbo, not quite under his breath. "Oh, don't stand there on the doorstep. Come in and seat yourself in the parlor. I'll give you some tea and a seedcake or two and then see what I can come up with." Not quite the most courteous of greetings, but not as nasty as many of the exchanges the two of them had known over the years. "And who's watching young Lotho today?"
"My Cousin Dock is up from Hardbottle, and is kindly watching the lad for me while I'm off seeing to organizing the fete."
She considered claiming Bilbo's own chair, but thought better of it. Besides, it smelled strongly of pipe smoke, and she wasn't all that fond of Old Toby. She primly settled herself upon the chair that had been favored, it was said, by Belladonna Took Baggins during her days as Mistress of Bag End, and looked at Bilbo expectantly. He set off down the passage to the kitchen, and she could hear him telling the small child, "Now, my young scamp, you sit there on the corner settle and be good while I fetch Mistress Lobelia some tea. Good thing I'd already set the kettle over the fire, don't you think? Here—here's a biscuit for you. Now—a few for Lobelia, and a couple of seedcakes…."
In minutes he was back, and she had to admit that the plate he brought for her was generous enough—two seedcakes, six ginger biscuits, slices of apple and pear, a boiled egg, and a scone with brambleberry jam, alongside a small pot of rosehip tea. And if the cup and saucer weren't from the best service in the hole, still they were large enough to hold a fair amount as well as being nicely serviceable. She thanked him as he again disappeared down the passage, going past the kitchen this time to the bedrooms and storage rooms in search of a mathom proper to be raffled off to the benefit of the Sandybanks family.
Having eaten the biscuits, she took a seedcake in one hand and her cup in another, and rose to steal to Bilbo's study. She'd heard rumors that he had a new silver inkstand, and she was dying to see it. Probably gifted to him by those awful Dwarves he insisted on calling his friends. She didn't approve of the friendship, of course, but had to admit Dwarves were excellent craftsmen and their works were marvelous.
And there on his desk it stood, and a marvelous thing it was! Room for four bottles of ink, each of which was a jewel in its own right, plus a groove in which lay three quills and one steel pen with a silver nib. But the stand itself—it was worth the risk of being possibly caught by her host (not that she intended to experience any such thing!). Was there a maker's mark on it, she wondered? She had to look….
There wasn't room enough on the flatter surfaces of the desk to set the four bottles of ink as well as the pens and her cup, so the bottle of red ink she set on the footstool that stood near the empty hearth. The steel pen was new, she noted, and it quickly found its way into her bodice. As for the inkstand itself—what a work of art! It was fashioned to look as if it were a branch from a rose bush, with sprays of leaves supporting each bottle and with very life-like thorns to the stems. Each leaf was so well modeled she almost expected it to quiver in the breeze from the open window. And the one single bloom at one end had a delicately formed bee positioned over its petals.
"Beautiful!" she whispered to herself, lifting up the stand to look at the bottom of it. No, not the hammer and anvil commonly seen on the items she knew had been crafted by Dwarves—this had a silver ship with a swans-head prow and a star upon the upraised mast. "Elvish work, I'd say," she commented privately.
Just then, Lobelia heard a sound she had never wanted to hear. "Petty! Petty! Nice red!" followed by a splashing sound as ink was poured out upon the tiles of the passageway floor. She turned to see little Frodo, who couldn't be more than two and a half years old, happily setting the now empty bottle that had held the red ink upon the carpet in the hallway before he deliberately began paddling his small hands in the ink. "Petty!" he declared again, just before he planted his hands on the wall opposite the study door, leaving two slightly smeared red handprints on the white plaster. As she watched, frozen with horror, he examined his handiwork, shook his head, and turned to the pool of ink once more to paddle before he made a second pair of handprints, not quite as streaky this time. "Yes!" he said, obviously pleased.
"No!" she exclaimed, suddenly hurrying forward.
But Frodo was faster than she was, and already was paddling once more in the ink. Finding her skirts brushing the back of his neck, he rose up on his knees and turned. "No—go 'way!" he said, and batted at the skirt, leaving predictable red stains on the crisp fawn of its cloth.
Her second exclamation of "No!" was enough to fetch Bilbo from the back of the smial, a mirrored globe meant to be hung in the frame of a window in his hands.
"What is it?" he demanded, then paused as he watched Lobelia Sackville-Baggins lifting up little Frodo, holding him at arm's length, obviously intending to shake him soundly. "Lobelia! You'd best not do that!"
She turned, instinctively pulling Frodo to her bosom at his shout. "Not do what?" she blustered.
"You'd best not shake that baby!" he said, a dangerous glint in his eyes. "I'll not stand by and see anyone shake so small a child. And what in Middle Earth are you doing in my study? You were left in the parlor to enjoy your tea!" Then, as both of them observed the red ink beginning to run down the dip of the grout between the tiles, he exclaimed, "And how did Frodo here manage to put his hands on my bottle of red ink?" He looked back up into her eyes, his face disgusted. "So—you just can't be bothered to behave properly, can you?"
Frodo, however, had noticed something prodding him through the fabric of her bodice, and was putting a hand inside her blouse. "Hard!" he said, reaching for what had caught his attention.
"No!" she moaned again as she sought to remove a small hand from inside her clothing. She drew out his hand, but not before he'd managed to grasp the hidden steel pen and pull it out of its hiding place.
She stood there, red stains on her skirt and on the yellow of her bodice in a most suggestive place as Frodo placed his other hand on the outside of her left breast to steady himself. He drew the blunt end of the pen into his mouth to suck on it, and grinned at Bilbo around it. "Petty!" he announced, waving his other hand, now it had left its mark on Lobelia's bodice, at the prints on the wall.
Bilbo let the ball fall. Fortunately it did not break as it hit the carpet, and it rolled away toward the wall where Frodo had made his handprints, resting there on the tiles as if to mark his handiwork. He scooped Frodo out of Lobelia's arms, saying, "I think, Lobelia, that it's time for you to go. I will send an item to your hole that will be suitable to be raffled off for the Sandybanks family. But you have definitely worn out your welcome."
He herded her past the parlor to the door, and she just had time to reach for her hat and umbrella from the hooks on the wall of the entrance as he opened the door and indicated she should leave immediately. At least, she noted, turning to hurl her parting shot of "And if you can't control that horrid little faunt, I'll give his mother an earful she'll not forget soon!"at him, he now also had red handprints on his golden waistcoat. A small recompense for coming away from Bag End empty handed, she thought. But the humiliation wasn't over yet. It appeared that Paladin Took, his wife and sisters had just arrived, and she found herself having to brush by an openmouthed Esmeralda as she hurried down the steps and through the wicket gate to her waiting trap. They had heard all of the interchange between her and Bilbo at the door, including Bilbo's charges that her Lotho was a spoiled brat! She scrambled into her trap and slapped at the pony with the reins before she remembered that the brake was set and released it. With a jolt she started on the return journey to Sackville Place, her bodice empty but with added bitterness in her heart against Bilbo and little Frodo Baggins.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.